As a Nation, Nigeria is facing a very precarious economic situation. In fact, a “BREAKING NEWS” report of August 31, 2016 by Vanguard’s Ifeanyi Onuba in Abuja, shows in a  ‘much-awaited’ release by the National Bureau of Statistics a Gross Domestic Product figures for the second quarter of 2016 with the GDP growth rate sliding further from -0.36 per cent in the first quarter to -2.06 per cent year-on-year.

The negative growth rate recorded in the second quarter of the year 2016 is no doubt, a confirmation of earlier predictions by economists and analysts that the country was heading into recession. A recession is defined as a significant decline in activities across the economy, lasting longer than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s GDP.

Nigeria’s GDP report released by the NBS claims in the second quarter of 2016, that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product declined by -2.06 per cent (year-on- year) in real terms. This as revealed, was lower by 1.70 per cent points from the growth rate of –0.36 per cent recorded in the preceding quarter, and also lower by 4.41 per cent points from the growth rate of 2.35 per cent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2015. Quarter on quarter, real GDP increased by 0.82 per cent.

The Nigeria printing and graphics industry in particular is obviously not indifferent to the many woes of this present economic downturn viz-a-viz its many consequences. The sector in its very self is facing a very difficult time that even predates the current economic situation. The nation is yet to recover from the last economic meltdown of 2008 / 2009 that forced many printing company to shut down resulting in thousands of job losses.

Given the economic hardship and untapped potentials of doing printing business, experts in Nigeria had described the printing industry as a very big sinking ship, with some deck already submerged. In a paper presented by Malomo Olugbemi titled JOB CREATION POTENTIAL OF THE PRINTING AND GRAPHICS COMMUNICATION INDUSTRY IN NIGERIA at the just concluded Nigeria International Print Expo (NIPEX) in Lagos quotes “if you are sitting on the deck that is not yet submerged and you think you are safe, you are only playing the ostrich, it’s a matter of time before it will be your turn”.

An earlier report of the FBS between Dec. 2015 and March 2016, shows that the population of unemployed increased from about half a million to over 1.5 million. It is therefore safe to conclude that about one million jobs were lost in three months. “The first step to any meaningful job creation will therefore be how to retain existing job” argues Malomo.

While we cannot take the printing industry in isolation, the “ship” of the Nigerian economy is also sinking, and a lot of “weight” are been thrown overboard to steady the ship and more than ever before each industry or sector must begin to outlay its importance before “been thrown overboard”. Such “weight” includes the recent ban of printing of souvenirs, conference materials, programme etc.

Recall that a Vanguard report of July 31, 2016 among many other media reports revealed how President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government banned the procurement and distribution of conference bags, T-shirts and other souvenirs at events such as Conferences and Seminars funded by Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The report which quoted the Director of Information, Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr. Salisu Dambatta, said President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the ban following recommendations by the Efficiency Unit; adding that the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, had forwarded the directive to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the Ministers of Finance and Budget and National Planning, for implementation.

The statement further claimed that the ban was in continuation of the on-going cost-cutting and efficiency drive in the utilization of public funds by the present administration. The News Agency of Nigeria recalls that President Buhari had set up the Efficiency Unit to review all federal government’s overhead expenditure to reduce wastage, promote efficiency and ensure quantifiable savings for the country. The Minister of Finance, Head of Service of the Federation, Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General of the Federation and Director, Budget Office of the Federation were members of the Unit. They identified procurement as the area to begin the execution of its mandate of reducing overhead costs and wastage resources.

It is now pertinent to ask if industry practitioners have ever asked themselves why printing is always the first to suffer in every government directive? Why the money spent on ordinary printing of souvenirs could be  such a concern to government? Could it be that contractors and middlemen have inflated the prices? All the same, one thing that has caught the attention of government that they want to use to steady the  “ship “ of the Nigeria economy has been job creation. Malomo noted that to save our industry, it’s about time we show and engage the government on the job creation potential of the printing industry.

A quick check on the printing and graphics communication industry reveals that in the seventies and eighties, the Nigeria printing industry was the hub of printing in West Africa. According to Malomo, “I can recall vividly how people from Francophone countries came to Shomolu (a suburb in Lagos State, South-West Nigeria) to print their French text books. But because successive Nigerian government had undermined this industry and careless on safeguard her, that this sector and her potentials have suffered grave and continuous decline”.

An understanding  of the printing and graphics communication industry globally shows that it’s a means of job creation. In the United States, the sector is the third highest employer of labour, employing more people than the automobile industry. Similarly in Europe, the printing sector is among the three highest employers of labour. In Nigeria it is the second largest employer of labour  after traditional farming, yet it maintains such a low profile that rather than being a great giant, it could just about disappear from sight. It is a diverse, disperse swarm of small businesses employing as low as five people. “However, its great strength when examined holistically shows one is faced with an entirely different monster comprising of thousands of small independent units”, added Malomo.

Printing touches lives constantly in the form of product packages, books, newspapers, magazines, office stationery and a wide variety of other printed items we use every day. We consume it without thinking about it. As further argued by Malomo, “to treat printing as a stand-alone product, service, or process, is impossible. It is a manufacturing industry in the strictest sense but it is also a service industry”.

There are a number of services and industries inter-twined with printing such as paper manufacturing, ink manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, print finishing, graphic design, marketing, distribution, among others. These number of inter-twined industries, in today’s parlance are now referred to as “Print and Graphics Communication Industry”.

What then are the challenges viz-a-viz opportunity(ies) in this sector? As enumerated by Malomo, chief among the challenges is the lack of a National Policy on Printing & Graphics Communication Industry. To him, this situation has led to the death of the three paper mills in Nigeria even though it is reported that they have been sold to private investors with the aim of reactivating them. “There are concerns that these investors may not be genuinely interested in reviving this vital industry, which is pivotal to educational development particularly book production. One only hope the paper mills were not acquired to further buries the industry so that importation of paper and boards could continue unabated”.

Paper and boards that are vital to the production of qualitative, quantitative and low cost books for students, teachers, and libraries are no more available locally since the paper mills are no longer producing. Printers now pay between 20% to 30% import duty on papers and boards. Ironically, there is zero % duty on printed books imported into the country. “The lack of policy direction has opened the industry to all sort of abuse by all and sundry”, added Yomi Otukoya, Chief Superintendent of Press, Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation (OSGOF), Abuja.

“Nigeria is probably the only country in the world where foreigners without any form of investment in the country except their briefcases, and support from their home government engage in the lowest value chain of printing, these are jobs reserved for locals in their home land”. Posited Malomo as he queried “are we looking for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or   Foreign Direct Deprivation  (FDD)

In terms of capacity challenges, pundits believed that the present day printers are well suited to meet whatever professional expertise of any western printing nation. However, this position seem not to have persuaded the mindset of government authorities as persons on the corridors of power often argue that lack of professional manpower is often the reason for patronizing foreign counterparts.

It is on record to note that these foreign printers are patronized at the expense of the Nigerian economy thus creating jobs for the citizens of those countries and impoverishing the printing industry further. The enrichment of those countries in books production alone runs into several billions of naira. One clear proof of this is the fact that over 90% of book supply contracts from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to “Book Publishers” were taken abroad for printing.

Three critical areas capable of generating millions of jobs annually include Educational Book Printing, Security Printing and Development of the “creative industry” potential of the industry.

 In terms of local printing of education material, with a population of over 160 million and more than half of these in one school or the other, and with students buying minimum of five books annually as recommended in the National Book Policy, it is expected that over 400million books will be printed annually at a selling price of N500; we are talking of an industry worth 200 billion annually and that is just educational book alone, religious books printing also runs into millions of copies.

For security printing, printing of Election Materials over the last years has been by foreign counterparts with billions fo naira been carted away at the expense of indigenous practitioners. Aside the fact that the professionals are at the receiving end, this trend also puts enormous pressure on the naira . The printing of cheque books and other sensitive bank documents must be completely localized. The same security companies that will handle election materials can also print cheque books and thereby ensures continuous job for the printers.

According to the International Institute for Training, Research and Economy Development (IITRED), over =N=120billion is spent annually on printing of security documents outside Nigeria.  Over =N=300billion naira is lost to document related security fraud.

Globally, governments are turning to the creative industry for job generation. Creative industries are industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent which have a potential for wealth and job creation. Of the 13 industries identified as “creative industry” in the UK more than half have their root in graphics communication.   Design alone employs more than one million people in Britain and this is possible because the government created enabling environment for this to happen.

With the Federal government determination to create jobs, It is believed now is the time to exploit the potentials of the printing sector. Worldwide, it is government’s responsibility to create an enabling environment for business to thrive. Without government taking a bold step in creating the rail line, the economy will slow down and job creation will be difficult. Printing industry in Nigeria has never realized its potentials and thereby failed in contributing its quota to the growth of the economy.

There is need for leadership, urgency and direction in the printing industry. Leadership from government to set in motion a policy that will give direction to the industry and put a stop to the recurrent loss of jobs, provide professional guide to the practice of printing, develop and promote local content, provision of dedicated intervention fund, vigorously pursue backward Integration of the Nigeria pulp and paper Industry, concerted skill development in the Industry  and address existing conflicting policy of government that is negatively affecting the industry.